[Just to get some old business out of the way before delving into my main topic for this post, let me just say that I’m painfully aware of how much I have discussed the process of blogging and the blog itself in my past posts. This has been self-indulgent and counter-productive. Writing about the blog in the blog is the kind of meta-writing that accomplishes very little and makes me look as if I have nothing of substance to talk about.
So, here endeth the self-referential blog posts. I have started the process of customizing this new version of the blog, and all future customizations and tweakages will speak for themselves. I’m going to get on with the serious business of writing about stuff.]
In today’s edition, I’d like to get a little something off my chest. It has to do with music and singing, and how you should really know your material before performing it.
So… let’s say you’re a singer. Let’s say you’re in a band, and you make a living doing what you do. You play a lot of gigs, and you have a decent following. You’re doing all right for yourself. You sound good, and you enjoy performing.
I would think that somebody in that position would take the time to understand the songs they sing before performing them in front of an audience. A lot of performers out there do a lot of covers of other people’s songs, and not only is it important to know the lyrics; it’s equally important to understand what those lyrics mean and what the song is about.
It’s like being in a play. If you just rhyme off the words without fully understanding them, then you’re not going to convince anybody that you’re really that character. You’re just going to be parroting somebody else’s words, and that’s exactly what it’s going to sound like.
Singing a song may be a little more forgiving than that, but if you don’t get it right, you can just bet your Aunt Ida’s jewellery collection that there’s going to be somebody out there like me, who is not only a language pedant, but also a music snob.
Okay, I’m not really a snob. I’m just very particular. I like to see things done well, especially in the realm of the arts, and I notice when things aren’t up to snuff.
Take, for example, an experience I had very recently. I’m not going to mention the name of the singer or the band, because that would just be mean, but it was a free outdoor concert that was part of a particular celebration.
This band had a great sound, and I really enjoyed their performance. I was moving to the music and wandering around taking pictures. It was a good day, and this event was a big part of it.
There was one point, however, when I said to myself, “She doesn’t understand that song. She really doesn’t know what it’s about.”
The song was “Proud Mary”, which most people think is titled “Rollin’ on the River” because of the chorus. It’s not. Why do people always think the repeated line of the chorus is also the title?
“Proud Mary” was written by John Fogerty and originally recorded by Credence Clearwater Revival. It was also a big hit for Ike and Tina Turner and later became a staple in Tina Turner’s concert sets. It’s a great song, and it’s simple lyrics are about a man who goes through a number of menial jobs and eventually ends up on a riverboat.
As I said, I enjoyed the performance of this particular band, but there emerged a tiny error which was a dead giveaway that the singer didn’t understand the song. In the chorus, she sang “Big wheels keep on turnin’ / Proud Mary keep on burnin'”. If you know the song well, then you know that it’s about Proud Mary, and Proud Mary is a riverboat, and riverboats have a paddle wheel.
Wheel. Singular. Not wheels.
This is not a song about a car, or a truck, or a train, or a motor scooter. It’s about a riverboat. And riverboats don’t have multiple wheels.
No doubt this singer had heard this song many times and knew it well. Or thought she knew it well. She’d probably heard the incorrect lyric from other performers who also didn’t have a sweet clue what the song was about. This kind of error perpetuates itself. You’ve heard the thing so many times that you think what’s in your head are the actual lyrics as written by the composer.
If you’re just an average guy or gal singing along with the radio, then it doesn’t matter that you don’t know what the real words are. A lot of songs are damnably hard to understand to begin with. So it’s okay if you think that Kiss wants to “rock and roll all night, and part of every day.” You’re just singing to yourself and your immediate company.
But if you’re a performer, then it’s a whole other roast pork loin. You’re getting paid to perform, and it’s your responsibility to know your material. If you don’t, then you’re being lazy and unprofessional. And someone like me is going to catch you at it.
Perhaps, gentle reader, you are thinking that this is a trivial and unimportant matter not worthy of the amount of words I’ve spent on it. If so, then fair enough. You’re likely not alone. But I would postulate that there exist things that you rant about that I would not give a second thought.
It’s all a matter of perspective. And to me, this topic of which I write today is just one more symptom of a lazy society that figures things are “good enough” or “will do”.
Excellence just doesn’t seem to matter anymore.
That’s where I’m coming from here.
So if you perform songs, make sure you know what they’re about. Because chances are, you’re going to wind up with someone like me in the audience sooner or later.
And we’re a nitpicky bunch.
So don’t piss us off.
End of rant.